Several years ago, you could use the internet on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis - paying by the megabyte for what you use. But these days, that’s been abandoned in favour of fixed broadband that comes with a ready-set usage limit or no limit at all.
Nonetheless, if PAYG broadband sounds like it's up your street - either because you don't go online much, or because you don't want the commitment of a contract - there are still a few options available. Here's the lowdown, and how to find a deal that suits you.
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No-contract, 30-day broadband
If it's temporary internet without the commitment you want, take a look at no-contract broadband. Instead of the usual 12-month or 18-month contracts, some broadband packages are available on just a 30-day basis - so you can stop, start, or cancel it whenever you like.
It tends to be fixed-line, meaning it's more reliable than mobile broadband (more on that later) while also offering affordable prices, and, best of all, unlimited usage. The only downside is that it costs a little more per month than broadband on a longer contract.
Everything Virgin Media has to offer - broadband, home phone, and even TV - is available on a 30-day rolling basis. That includes its ultra speedy broadband (with average download speeds of 362Mb), and up to 245 channels for your telly.
All of NOW Broadband's packages are available on 30-day contracts too, including fibre broadband packages with average speeds of 36Mb and 58Mb, and all have unlimited downloads. Plus, you can add on a TV Pass at any time to get premium TV channels, Sky Cinema, or Sky Sports.
Cheap broadband with a usage limit
If the main reason you're looking at pay-as-you-go broadband is because you don't use the internet very much, you may be better off signing up to a basic cheap internet package. These usually give you an ADSL connection (i.e. not fibre optic), sometimes have a usage limit of 25GB or so, and come at very, very low prices. We're talking only a couple of pounds on top of the price of your line rental - or sometimes nothing at all.
It's just enough to ensure that you have internet in your home when you need it, but barely costs a thing.
*Average speeds are based on the download speeds of at least 50% of customers at peak time(8pm to 10pm). Speed can be affected by a range of technical and environmental factors. The speed you receive where you live may be lower than that listed above. You can check the estimated speed to your property prior to purchasing.
For truly pay-as-you-go broadband, your only option - in the UK, at least - is mobile broadband. This works over 4G and 3G, the same as the internet on a smartphone, and can come in the form of a dongle, a personal hotspot device, or a home router. You can also turn your smartphone into a mobile hotspot and connect to that.
Mobile broadband is available from most major mobile networks. Some of them offer genuine PAYG mobile broadband, in which you buy a mobile broadband gadget and a SIM card upfront, then top it up and pay for each megabyte you download. However, most prefer you to buy add-ons or 30-day data bundles with a set data allowance you can use. Networks that offer this kind of mobile broadband include:
You can also sign up for a monthly contract. This usually works out much better value than PAYG - especially from a provider like Relish, which gives you unlimited downloads.
The good thing about PAYG mobile broadband is that you really can just pick it up whenever you want, and stop again when you don't need to use the internet for a while. You don't have to sign a contract or be subjected to a credit check either. And being mobile, you can take your hotspot or dongle out and about to get internet wherever you go.
However, it's still not as good value as fixed-line broadband - and because you're relying on 4G it isn't quite as stable or as fast.